Video: How to Form Past Tense in Russian

Posted on February 3rd, 2014

I’ve been getting a lot of requests from you guys to teach Russian past and future tenses, so let’s start with the past tense. In today’s video lesson you will learn how to form past tense in Russian and will do a quick and simple excersise to practice the rules you’ve learned.

You can start by reviewing the materials below or by watching the video:

Here is a quick transcript of the video lesson:

In present tense, the gender of the subject is not indicated. For example:

Он читает
He is reading (he reads)

Она читает
She is reading (she reads)

See, the ending of verb читает is exactly the same for both masculine and feminine genders.

The past tense, on the other hand, indicates the gender of the subject in singular form. For example:

Он читал
He was reading (he read)

Она читала
She was reading (she read)

Let’s discuss in more detail how past tense is formed in Russian.

Forming Past Tense

I created a little a table that summarizes how to form the Past Tense in Russian:

Past Tense in Russian

To form past tense, you will need to drop the –ть from infinitive form and add the following endings for the following forms:

1. Form Я 
As you can see form я has two endings: and –ла. You can’t use them both, you can only use one. When you use pronoun я you are talking about yourself. So, if you are a guy, you will add the masculine ending , if you are a girl, you will use the feminine ending –лa.

For example, I will need to add feminine endings when forming past tense:

Я читала
I was reading (I read)

Я отдыхала
I was resting (I rested)

Я путешествовала
I was travelling (I traveled)

2. Form ты also has two endings – masculine and feminine -ла.
So, when you are talking to a guy you will use masculine ending, and when you are talking to a girl or a woman, you will need to use feminine ending –ла.

For example:
When you are talking to a man, you will use ending –л when forming past tense:
Ты учил французский?
Did you learn French?

Ты жил во Франции?
Did you live in France?

When you are talking to a woman, you will use ending –ла when forming past tense:
Ты учила французский?
Did you learn French?

Ты жила во Франции?
Did you live in France?

3. Likewise, for the masculine form он you will use ending –л, and for the feminine form она you will use ending –ла. For the neuter form оно, you will need to use ending – ло. For the purpose of this exercise, let’s use Russian verb сиять, it means illuminate or  shine in English.

Город сиял вечерними огнями.
The city was illuminated by night lights.

На небе сияла небольшая луна.
The (not a big) moon was illuminating from the sky.

Вчера весь день сияло солнце.
The sun was shining all day yesterday.

4. Forms мы, вы, они are plural, and for all of them you will only need to remember one ending –ли.

Мы вчера читали эту книгу.
We read this book yesterday.

Вы читали эту книгу?
Did you read this book?

Они читали эту книгу в прошлом году.
They read this book last year.

So, for past tense in Russian, you will only need to remember these 4 endings:

Feminine - ла
Masculine - л
Neuter - ло
Plural -ли

Of course, as always in Russian, there are exceptions, but we’ll talk about them later.

Now, let’s practice!

Tell me in Russian:
1. What magazines or books did you read last year?
2. What foreign language or languages did your best friend learn in school?
3. Where did your family live five years ago? In this case you will need to make a plural sentence in Russian. So, start your sentence with они.

Also, to summarize the rules discussed in this lesson, I decided to create a little infographic. You can save it and review it every time you need to remind yourself of how to form Russian Past Tense, and of course, feel free to share it with your friends who are also learning Russian:

How to Form Past Tense in Russian


This is all for today! See you soon!

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The courses of Russian as a foreign language with Russian4real take place online via Skype. The teacher works with adults individually since he is convinced that each person must receive maximum time for practice and professional attention while learning a foreign language.